It's been a strange, sad week. Like everything is built on sand and liable to change at any moment. Friends have lost loved ones; there were redundancies at work today. Everyone has a story of something awful happening. Honestly, what the hell is going on with the world right now, eh?
We'd just finished dessert (yogurt and fruit) but my stomach was still grumbling as I made us a cup of tea.
"Man… I could really go a teacake right now"
"What's a teacake?" asked Gareth.
"Kind of like a hot cross bun, but flatter and less spicy with lots of fruit."
"But you just had fruit."
I slowly set the teaspoon on the counter and turned to glare. "What's that supposed to mean?!"
"What do you mean, what's that supposed to mean?"
"I know that tone! It's the you've only just eaten and now you want MORE? tone!"
"There was no such tone!"
"You used the Mothership tone of implied gluttony!"
"I've only met your Mum three times, how could I know her tones?"
"Her tones are powerful and easily absorbed."
"You're so paranoid about food!"
"I thought you were having a go at me," I sniffed. "You weren't having a go at me?"
"Nooo!" he laughed.
"Oh." I resumed stirring the tea and pondered. "Hang on! Was your emphasis on the HAD? Like you were saying, but you only just HAD fruit; why would you want to consume even MORE fruit? Wouldn't you rather chocolate or sardines or something non-fruity?"
"Well. That's alright then!"
"Or biscuits. Have we got any biscuits?"
Hello world! I know some folks get annoyed when I write about Book Stuff but I assure you this is the very last Dietgirl translation and it would be rude to give shoutouts to Germany and Norway then ignore poor old Finland.
So… hello any Finns out there! I've already heard from some lovely Dieettitytön huimat seikkailut readers (thank you!) who said they particularly appreciated the passionate love story. Not Gareth, but rather Finnish chocolate.
It was a brief but intense affair – just three days in Helsinki almost five years ago. But I still wake up drooling from Fazer chocolate dreams, especially the Tupla and Geisha bars. I think the chocolates got more adjectives in the book than poor Dr G.
Apart from the chocolate and the reindeer with mashed potatoes, my other lingering memory of Helsinki is of wind. Not the excess-broccoli-consumption kind, but rather the wild stuff that blows things over. I was still in my Avoiding Cameras phase back then so the only photographic evidence I've got is a self-portrait beneath the Sibelius Monument that still makes Dr G bust a gut laughing. A ferocious Finnish breeze is all you need for a stunning Flock of Seagulls hairstyle.
The book looks very cool – hardcover with lots of vowels. The acknowledgements are slightly confusing. In the UK version, I thanked Gareth in the last paragraph and ended with, "YOU RAWK" – the Finnish translation of this sentence is "SENKIN LIVERPOOL-FAN!" Very strange!
(Thank you Meri for your help with the entry title!)
- I passed my Green Belt grading at kickboxing yesterday! It was hell! Sweet, punchy hell. It hurts to type now. I managed to screw up the bits that I'd been feeling confident about, and do well at the things I was worried about, which meant it all evened out nicely. Woohoo!
Somehow in the sparring I managed to kick my opponent with my big toe, despite the gigantic padded Mickey Mouse shoes. It bent back very painfully. I still suck at sparring, but otherwise I'm on a total high and amazed at the power of the human brain to learn stuff. A few weeks ago I was chucking tantrums trying to do a spin kick but I managed six in a row yesterday. If only I could apply my kickboxing dedication to other aspects of my life I would be unstoppable. Limping and quite ineffectual in a dark alley… but otherwise unstoppable.
- In other Green developments, last week I made The Best Broccoli Of Your Life, an Ina Garten recipe as seen on the Amateur Gourmet. People are so free and easy with superlatives these days… how many volumes of those Greatest Rock Album In The World… EVER! albums did they bring out in the 90s? But this easy recipe truly awesomizes broccoli – oven roasted with garlic then lashed with lemon zest and juice and a wee bit of Parmesan. The original calls for lots of olive oil but I only used a dribble and accidentally forgot the basil and pine nuts but it was still brilliant. Even Gareth who has just three adjectives to describe anything in this world (Not Bad, Pretty Good or Alright) went cuckoo. I cooked almost two pounds of broccoli and we guzzled the lot of it. Oh it was lick-the-bowl good. Let me know if you try it! Come join the broccoli cult!
Warning: I know I said in the last entry that there's no need to worry; that your digestive system adjusts to a vegetarian diet. However, if you have never consumed a pound of broccoli in a oner before, you can expect the only thing you'll give your partner on Valentine's Day is the Gift of Fragrance.
There's been a glut of vegetarian questions lately…
(Edit: Well there WAS a glut of questions, back in freakin' May 2008 when I started writing this entry. Slackarse! I'm determined to finish today!)
… You've shacked up with one, you want to be one, you want to be a part-time one, or you just want to beat gas prices and find out if you can propel yourself to the office with your very own wind power.
Whatever your reasons for wanting to eat less/no meat – economical, ethical, environmental – your questions were about how to put that desire into practice:
- how do I change my diet?
- how do I make non-meat meals tasty and satisfying?
- what do I do with all those beans?
- what about the FARTING?
As always I can only offer my own experiences and hope you might find something helpful there. Also, in the eons that have passed since I started this entry, I've noticed lots of bloggers talking about decreasing their meat consumption – so if anyone out there has some tips, feel free to join in!
I grew up on a farm where it was blasphemy not to eat meat every night. There was always half a cow in our freezer at least. I only knew one vegetarian, the lovely Carrie. We gave her a lot of hell about it at school. There was a range of vegetarian products in Australia that were all called Not-something. Not Burgers. Not Bacon. Not Dogs. Every time the poor girl grilled one up for lunch we'd all cackle, "How's your Not Burger?… NOT BAD?"
My meat consumption decreased sharply when I moved to Scotland, firstly for financial reasons. Then I hooked up with Vegetarian Gareth and when I moved in with him, he insisted I shouldn't change my diet on his account. But I found it more practical to cook one meal and enjoyed the culinary challenge. I also liked how vegetarian cooking usually resulted in less skanky pots to clean!
These days I treat meat and fish like I do chocolate – they're Sometimes foods. I go for the best quality I can afford and try to be mindful of sustainability and origin and all that stuff.
So here's the step-by-step meat-reducing process I went through:
1. Adapting old meaty recipes
Back when I first shacked up with Dr G, I started by taking my old standard meat recipes and finding veggie substitutes. This meant lots of beans and lentils. Mostly from cans (with no added sugar or salt) because I couldn't be bothered soaking dried ones and our unreliable stove meant you'd have to stand beside it for hours making sure the little beans didn't stick to the pot.
- Canned green or brown lentils – great sub for minced beef in spaghetti bol. Once you add some herbs, vegetable stock and wine and simmer for a good while, it gets nice and rich and you don't miss the beef.
- Borlotti beans – these ones are the ones they use in baked beans. I love them for bean burgers – just mash up a tin of beans, add some fresh herbs, some chopped onion, maybe some pesto, or some nuts and seeds, roll into balls, oven bake or pan fry. Ace.
- Butter beans – Dr G makes this great butterbean mash – just sautee an onion, add the butterbeans and a dash of Tabasco then squash with a stab blender. Sometimes he adds chopped herbs or a sprinkle of cheese.
2. Dabbling with meat substitutes
I went through a phase of trying lots of vegetarian products, particularly Quorn. What is Quorn? It's mycoprotein… fungi sort of thing, flavoured and formed into various shapes – sausages, burgers, mince. Like the Not range back in Oz. I tried it all, baby. It's quite tasty, but the Quorn "bacon" did me in… it tasted nothing like bacon and it had the most creepy texture. I decided I'd rather have some REAL bacon every now and then instead of a pretender.
3. Getting big and bold with flavours
Once I got bored with faux meat I thought about flavoursome ingredients that would jazz up plain veggies and beans. Olives, capers, sundried tomatoes, chilies, feta cheese, lemon, lime. Lots of fresh herbs too. Trying new spices with weird names. It's lovely how a sprinkle of this and that can make a vegetable sing.
4. Putting the veg centre stage
For a couple of years we got a vegetable box delivery. For £10 per fortnight all sorts of weirdo veggies would show up on our doorstep. This forced me to get more imaginative and build the meals around the vegetable, whereas in the old days it revolved around the meat. I found Leith's Vegetarian Bible and the Riverford Organics recipe pages great for those "What the HELL do I do with this leafy thing?" moments.
5. Finding some new old standards
I was cool with the veggie thing once I had a couple of recipes for that worked every time and pleased a crowd. I always trot out Sophie's Comforting Butternut Squash Dal that I have linked to 27 times before. Sooo soothing and filling and tasty, it would never occur to you that meat was "missing". Plus if you do the spicy onion garnish and yogurt and naan bread, it looks like you've gone to lots of fuss. Hehe.
I'd also be lost without Delia Smith's vegetarian shepherds pie. It is the Friends For Lunch standard – although I make it with about 75% less butter than Delia. It's one of those dishes that make you sigh, "Ahh… lentils rule". It showed me that the beans and lentils can be flavoursome in their own right. They are such great "carriers" for other flavours. It's a very adaptable recipe – I like it with sweet potato or butternut or parsnip mash instead of plain potato. I also swap out the goats cheese coz Dr G is freaked out by goats cheese (I just asked him again why he hates it and he said, "URRGH! Coz it just tastes of goats." Righto then.)
6. Devouring food blogs
There's no better way of getting ideas than from snooping at what other people do. Here are some of my favourite food blogs that are either vegetarian or just have some great vegetable recipes:
- Green Gourmet Giraffe
- A Wee Bit Of Cooking
- 101 Cookbooks
- Fat Free Vegan
- Mostly Eating
- The Gooseberry Fool
Oh yeah… the farting. Your body does adjust! I've eaten beans for lunch every day this week and I've not issued a single trumpet. My colleagues will be pleased to know that.
I've started a dozen blog entries over the past few days but writing about exercise and cravings and wobbly things feels so bloody ridiculous. It's still difficult to comprehend the scale of the fires in Victoria. Over here in the snow and grey you sometimes forget what a harsh country Australia is; how devastating a changing wind can be. My heart goes out to everyone affected.
- Loobylu has posted some links on how we can help
- Australian Red Cross appeal
- RSPCA bushfire appeal (thanks Miss T and ani pesto)
- OzBushfireAppeal shop on Etsy (via the lovely Flossy-P)
- Today I wish it were more – Fifi writes so beautifully
- There's thirsty koala footage all over the net right now; I saw this wee guy on Trish's site…
This morning I noticed I'm about 50 grams away from finishing a kilogram box of oats. That feels like a wholesome achievement. I never got that feeling from polishing off half a pound of Cadbury's, for example. Hearing that last handful of grains swooshing round in the bottom of the box is very reassuring somehow.
Feeling a little quiet and reflective this week. Hiding away with my porridge and the snow and the latest Kate Atkinson book. And also cramming like a madwoman for the kickboxing grading next Sunday. I've got a gazillion posts to write so hope you'll stick around. A huge thanks for all your comments on the Bert Memorial Post… you guys know how to bring a tear or ten to the eye. Mum and Rhi appreciated it too… thank you again!
While I was in New York I had the pleasure of chatting with Edward Champion for The Bat Segundo Show.
I've been following Ed's writing on the websince 2001 and I'm a huge fan of the Show. Check out the incredible archives, going strong with over 250 episodes – Kate Atkinson, David Lynch, Christopher Plummer, Jennifer Weiner, Martin Amis, Mike Leigh and freakin Bonnie Tyler!
I have to admit I felt rather intimidated joining such a lofty list and I did stumble over many of Ed's thoughtful and thorough questions. I wish I could blame it all on the jetlag 🙂 But I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and as always was inspired and awed by Ed's style and classy questions. None of this, "got any weight loss tips" stuff.
If you love books be sure to check out the Show.
Before there was blog there was dog. Bert was my best mate and confidante. Back in high school we'd sit on the veranda and chat. The conversation was mostly non-verbal, with me telling him how school sucked or my parents were jerks or boys were evil (the usual teenage angst) then occasionally saying out loud, "So what do you reckon?" or "Isn't that right, B?" and he would yawn in agreement.
Bert was the runt of the litter. His siblings got shipped out to other farms and forged illustrious sheep-chasing careers, but he wasn't very bright and couldn't get the hang of it. So his job was to just hang around the house. He claimed a groovy 1940s armchair that I'd planned to take away to university, and dug a Bert-sized hole in the seat. When I'd arrived home from a shift at KFC, he'd hop off the chair and do that leisurely dog stretch as he wagged his tail expectantly. He loved leftover chicken nuggets and gravy.
He was not a traditionally handsome dog. About a decade ago he developed a bald patch on his head, then a bald streak right down his back. His snout was patchy and he lost half the fur on his tail. He did have a ridiculous thick, clown-like layer of fluff around his neck that was as coarse as a doormat. Of course we thought he was gorgeous.
His dilapidated exterior suited his personality. You couldn't do normal dog things like take him for a walk or introduce him to your friends. He basically hated everyone in the world except The Mothership, Rhiannon and me. He wasn't nasty or aggressive, just slightly batty. He was fiercely loyal to the three of us, and despite the lack of brains and brawn he made you feel safe and loved. Whenever we left the house he always did what Mum called The Lean, sidling up and pressing his scraggy wee body against your legs and refusing to budge, as if to say Don't go don't go! He was extra leany the day Rhi and I left Australia.
He was also entertaining. Mum used to live in a house with a walkway beside it. Bert would slink up to the tall wooden fence when he heard footsteps then wait for the best moment to pop his head over and let fly with a giant WOOOOF, scaring the bejesus out of innocent drunks and old ladies returning home with their shopping.
The Mothership called on Saturday to say had Bert passed away. He was an old man, fourteen or fifteen years old (no one can remember for sure) so the news shouldn't have come as a shock. But three of us are utterly devastated. I've been crying my guts out. At first I felt stupid for being such as mess but he's been part of our lives for so long, he has seen so much. He helped us through many tough times. We leaned on him as much as he literally leaned on us. Bert was a man you could trust.
We all hoped he would hold until our visit at Easter, but Mum thinks the heat became too much for his weary bones; the temperatures in her part of Australia were soaring over 40'C (104'F) all week. Or maybe when she told him he'd made his debut on American television he just thought, Well really… where could I go from here?!
The last time I saw Bert was October 2005. On the final day of our trip we did the Fat Jeans Photoshoot for a laugh. Mum kept saying he knew we were leaving, which is why he insisted on sneaking into every frame.
By then Bert was mellowing in his old age – he'd stopped barking at cars and had made friends with the guy who mowed the lawns. But he didn't think much of Gareth. He snarled upon introduction, then a few days later when Gareth was hanging washing on the line Bert wandered over and slowly opened his mouth then closed it again – there was an audible snapping sound, like a crocodile. We interpreted this as, Dude if I wasn't so old I'd totally go you.
After that Bert just ignored him completely. Here's Gareth after he climbed out of my old jeans. You can't see Bert's face but you can tell from the flattened ears that he is giving the stink eye.
Here he is doing two of his favourite things – getting a pat from The Mothership and also eating a lamb neck chop. Gareth threw him a bone in a final attempt at friendship. You could see the conflict in Bert's weary yellow eyes – I don't like this guy but I really love necks. He begrudgingly accepted and stalked off to a corner of the back yard.
Bert chilled even further in his last few years, to the point where he had walks on a leash, talked to other dogs and loved cuddles from small children. I had high hopes that he and Gareth would be good buddies after Easter. I'm so gutted that we missed him by two months. You don't always feel the miles with emails and Skype but right now Oz seems horribly far away. I can't believe he's not going be there waiting at the back door of The Mothership's house. It's just not going to be the same.
I miss you B-Dog. I can't believe I won't see you again. Wherever you are now, I sure hope you've been reunited with all your missing fur.
How boring would lard-busting be without blogging? Pretty bloody dull, I tells ya. I've had emails from new folks who saw my Early Show appearance and asked how they can start blogging, and also why one would want to pick up such a nerdy habit in the first place. I thought I would answer that here!
There are many reasons why – such as accountability to yourself and others, putting your hopes and fears and goals in writing, and having a place to celebrate and/or whine about the process. A blog can be whatever you want it to be – anonymous or exhibitionist; soul-searching essays or just jotting down your lunch. You don't even have to write one at all – reading blogs can be equally rewarding.
Personally I reckon without all the friendships, ideas, recommendations, advice, recipes, comments, challenges, support, insight and inspiration I've found from this blogging caper, I might still be plodding along on the treadmill yelling, "BORRRRRING!" at quarter-mile intervals. It's the spice, it's the flavour! There are so many things that are now fundamental parts of my life I might never have otherwise discovered. I've listed just a few at the end of this entry.
I think you need to have many different tools in your Toolshed o' Healthy Living, but blogging is one that won't just collect dust on the shelf. Ho ho ho.
- Wendy linked to Krista's Stumptuous site in 2001 and I discovered the concept of chicks lifting heavy objects.
- Nessajane blogged about Body Pump classes and got me thoroughly addicted.
- Robyn blogged about the mighty Enell sports bra in 2004 and I could finally do cardio without clutching The Girls in agony. It's the ugliest garment known to mankind, but so effective.
- Marla mentioned Cathe Friedrich fitness DVDs and turned me into a slobbering fangirl.
- Wilma emailed out of the blue with knee-healing advice just when I was ready to stab my faulty joint with a pen.
- Mistress Julia kicked my arse with her running expertise.
- Kathryn wrote about her boxing classes and intrigued with the idea of punching real people.
- I'm pretty sure it was Smaller Sue who blogged about low fat cream cheese and fruit spread on toast circa 2005, just when my breakfasts were getting batshit boring.
- Jen got me hooked on the Jillian Michaels podcast.
- Argyro introduced me to the wonders of Fage Total Greek Yogurt. I wish Argy would start blogging again!
- In 2006 Elise of Simply Recipes blogged this recipe for a sauce with cilantro, lime and chili that we have made almost every week since (with less oil)
- Mary got me onto Om Yoga DVDs and the brilliant The Low GI Vegetarian Cookbook
- Sophie mentioned in passing that she puts porridge/oatmeal in a thermos jar for her commute. I promptly copied and can now have piping hot porridge at my desk at 10AM!
- I wish I could remember where I first read about a spoonful of peanut butter in porridge. So good!
- Bex blogged about the 30 Day Shred DVD which is great when you want your arse kicked in just 20 minutes.
- Her royal buffness Kek gave endless weight training and healthy eating advice
- Maggie at Caustic Musings mentioned Cardio Coach MP3 workouts which made gym cardio far more bearable
- Kim reviewed the rockin' Element Pilates which is now one of my most beloved workout DVDs.
There are so many things. This is a work in progress, but will add more when as I think of 'em. It's nice to remember.